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Disruption: Something that interrupts your flow, your habits, your autopilot. Sounds uncomfortable, right? I’m learning that it’s not just uncomfortable—it’s also vital to our growth and resilience. (Why isn’t this stuff ever easy?) But there’s even more to the story.

Seeds in a wildfire

The fact is that big changes force growth. Just as the seeds of certain plants need a wildfire in order to germinate, their reproduction dependent on the ultimate disruption, some developments can only occur in us if we’re dismantled and forced to put ourselves back together. Whether the disruption is a tipping point after incremental change or a tornado changing everything at once, it expands your horizon, forces you to see things differently, and emboldens you. Disruption excavates us and gets to our deep motivation, energy, source, and essence and makes us work to rebuild something new. That’s why going through discomfort and disruption changes you. It’s like a big force of nature, winds and sea that reshape your coastline. But is it pleasant? Absolutely not.

I’ve been living through some major disruptions myself lately, and resisting them every step of the way. My recent blog about self-sabotage describes some of my paralysis in the face of seismic changes in my life as a mother, a daughter (an orphan, now), and in my career. Many of the things I’ve been wanting are coming to fruition, but it’s at a time where I don’t feel ready for it—it feels like it’s too much at once, more than I can handle.

A disruption in time could save nine

As regular readers know, I have just finished moving house and office. This was happening while I transitioned to my son’s new marriage, organized my parents’ celebration of life ceremonies, travelled to the US for a graduation and a wedding, and also began a piece of work that will bring me to another province every couple of weeks for the next 6 months or so. It’s all happening at once!

What regular readers may not know is that it didn’t have to happen all at once. I had the opportunity to choose to disrupt my home last fall and look for a new house then, but I didn’t like what I found and decided to wait until another time. With my new perspective, I might look for ways I, now, can do my future self a favour by disrupting a bit of my comfort now to save her some hassle in the future.

So I am exploring the idea of disrupting my own life on my own terms. Before the tipping point, before the tsunami, before the big nudge, I am experimenting with choosing to disrupt myself.

It’s a good lesson, to disrupt what we can when we can. It’s not that we’ll avoid surprises down the road—there’ll always be surprises. It’s more that by continuously disrupting our own habits and comforts, we build resilience, avoid all-at-once disruptions, and are more than ready for whatever surprises do come our way.

But there’s other, just as vital, work we need to do.

Accepting that hard things are hard

It’s true that I could have moved last fall, and I wouldn’t have had to now. But you know what I was doing last fall? Focusing on my ailing parents. I wouldn’t trade that time with them for any ease now. Yet before this clicked with me, I spent a fair amount of time berating myself for not having moved earlier, and thinking the issue was resistance to change, or avoidance, instead of acknowledging how very hard it was to slowly say goodbye to my parents, and how long grief can last.

So we need to not just work to become more resilient to change; we must also be patient with ourselves. I, like many, have endless patience and compassion for others, but can occasionally find it hard to extend to myself—I, who “should know better,” who should have learned to love change by now. After all, if I know that disruption can bring so many positive developments, why is it still so difficult for me to go through it?

I’ve been missing a key step in all of this. Yes, changes and disruptions can be net positives. But we are creatures of habit, and when our habits are disrupted, it’s discombobulating and annoying and even painful. We’re animals, not machines; we bleed, and we cry, and we rage. And preaching to ourselves (and others!) about being positive toward change simply doesn’t make change any easier. In fact, putting pressure on ourselves to have only positive feelings about disruptions can actually make the situation worse.

What can make it easier is accepting that our discombobulation, our annoyance, and our pain are natural, just like periods of depression can be natural; just like death is natural. We can let ourselves feel what we’re feeling, without judgement or worry or glowering deadlines. There’s really no way you “should” act or feel in response to change.

There are just tools we can use to prepare ourselves and to nurture ourselves through difficult times.

Tools for survival

Intentional disruption when you’re not in crisis is a tool for surviving the times when you are. I don’t suggest anyone should disrupt for the heck of it, or while everything is in chaos. (That’s the piece that was missing for me in the fall.) My approach will be to keep my end goals in mind, so that I can work backward and see what has to change in peaceful times, in order for me to meet those goals. I know I need to make change and build resilience, so I’m considering looking for smaller, more manageable ways to do this so I’m not blindsided once more by everything happening at once. (Or, if I am, maybe I’ll be ready for it!)

One of my big goals right now is to create more content that’s available to people all over the world, rather than just the rooms in which I work in as a consultant. I want to create and connect with a global community of people who want to be humanist in a technocratic world. This means I have to get out of my comfort zone as an introvert and do what I did recently: go to an event and make a presentation on how I became a sculptor of public art through a community I eventually chose to represent through art. This was quite a disruption of my Saturday night after an exhausting week at work, but it did force me to grow. I met other people, met with a new community, and I’m starting to create connections that will bring me to a different type of work that’s as much online as in person.

Another goal is to spend more time connecting in nature, and two disruptions will help me do that: first my new home, which has little outdoor space of its own and will require and enable me to walk through some of the gorgeous nature available in Ottawa. And this new piece of work that will take me to the Maritimes regularly will allow me to spend time in a place where water and woods are everywhere you look.

There are so many ways in which we can disrupt ourselves that are not necessarily tsunamis. We can build our muscles bit by bit, become more resilient, change our patterns in small and then big ways.

But more importantly, we can sit with our discomfort and pain, acknowledge them and allow ourselves to feel all of our messy, paralyzing resistance and grief. We can accept our own humanity and all our foibles and complexities, and know that what might seem like weakness or resistance to change is simply us, processing utterly natural reactions and doing our best with life’s chaos.

In times of disruption, are you able to let yourself feel the overwhelm, and sit in the chaos? Have you ever taken deliberate steps to create small, “productive disruption”?